Rebranding Rela into Barisan’s vanguard


Under the government’s transformation programme (GTP) Rela is to be rebranded as part of a police “omnipresence.” But its massive build-up has raised suspicions that it may instead become Barisan’s vanguard or even an additional vote bank.

“When the chips are down, Rela will be with this government to defend the country. Do not cause havoc in this country because the 2.8 million Rela members will not stand idly by and watch the country descend into chaos,” he thundered to the noisy approval from a crowd of 30,000 Rela members gathered in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday.

Najib seems at variance with his Transformation Minister Idris Jala. The GTP roadmap for combating crime requires Rela to help police keep“omnipresence” in 50 identified crime hot spots in the Kuala Lumur, Selangor, Johor and Penang.

But Najib talks about using Rela as a vanguard or vigilante when Umno or Barisan’s chips are down and he wants Rela to contain demonstrators out to create public disorder.

How do we expect a rag-tag army of volunteers to rein in demonstrators when even the specially trained red-helmeted FRU could not handle the peaceful Bersih 2.0 Rally last year without resorting to brutality? And Bersih 2.0 was not even out to create public disorder at that.

There is hardly any time nor resources to train the volunteer army. According to the GTP roadmap, less than 400 Rela/JPAM personnel were trained and deployed in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor in August and September 2009; about 280 personnel were trained and were deployed in Penang and Johor in October and November 2009. That’s a tiny drop in the ocean of 2.8 million Rela volunteers. If it takes just ten hours to train one Rela, it would take 3,240 man-years to train all of them round the clock! What we likely to get is a largely untrained but a vigilante force sanctioned by Barisan.

The recruitment for volunteers for this auxiliary security force shot up almost five-fold from 600,000 to the current 2.8 million within two years. It is the biggest peace time civilian mobilisation and is 25 times bigger than the country’s standing army as well as that of the police force.

The bulk of the new Rela recruits are from frontline states. Selangor has half a million, Penang (220,328), Kelantan (222,910), Perak (271,396), Sabah (258,162) and Sarawak (199,991) as at 31 July 2011. This works out to be two thirds of Rela’s total membership. Given that in the 2008 elections, some marginal seats were won or lost by less than 50 votes, the extraordinary Rela presence in these states is more than a concern.

This massive build-up seems extraordinarily strange especially when Malaysia already has a better police personnel to population ratio than even industrial countries. For every 100,000 persons, Malaysia has 301 policemen. According to UN criminal justice statistics, this is higher than Denmark (196), Canada (200), South Korea (202), Japan (203), Sweden (206), U.S. (229) and Australia (247).

On top this, the country also has its civil defence force of 67,000 as well as the Police Volunteer Corp, both of which are much more disciplined and experienced than Rela.

RELA has a bad reputation having drawn flak from foreign attention for its human rights abuses of nabbing aliens without valid entry permits for a bounty of RM80 per head captured.

In 2007, Human Rights Watch called for RELA to be disbanded, “The government has set up what’s little more than a vigilante force to target foreigners. Given RELA’s repeated abuses, it should be disbanded right away “said Brad Adams, its Asia director.